Best night out for Sactown’s living dead
This summer’s 10th annual Trash Film Orgy cult-movie festival officially began on July 10, when the Crest Theatre opened its doors to a round-the-block line of horror enthusiasts for a midnight screening of Evil Dead 2. Unofficially, it began when the zombies took over MARRS.
Every month, thousands of Second Saturday revelers gather in the car-free zone outside the MARRS building to watch live bands and browse sidewalk vendors. That’s why the three local artists who have shaped and shepherded the Trash Film Orgy for a decade—Christy Savage, Darin Wood and Amy Slockbower—planned to march their annual opening-night zombie parade right down 20th Street. Wood walked the route the night before, imagining the surprised faces of unsuspecting citizens as ghoulishly grease-painted trash-film fans lurched past.
The real event was decidedly more chaotic. By 9 p.m., the parking lot meet-up location was crowded to overflowing. Police made an appearance to herd the zombies out of traffic. Shortly after 10 p.m., Wood arrived at the MARRS patio, his hair sticking up wildly and a panicked look in his eyes. He raised a bullhorn and screamed, “Get out of the way! The zombies are coming! Move!”
The fear in his eyes was real. Motivated by the buzz around Seattle’s record-breaking 4,200-zombie parade the week before, Sacramento’s television and print media had showered TFO with an unprecedented amount of attention. Facebook RSVPs grew exponentially in the days before the walk. Ultimately, nearly 1,000 tattered and brain-hungry zombies staggered into Second Saturday that night, forming a macabre procession nine blocks long.
“I lost control almost immediately,” Wood recounted. “[MARRS] had a band playing on the patio, and there was a wall of people watching. I had 900 zombies behind me that did not want to stop. I thought, ‘Where are we going to put all these people?’ It was terrifying.”
Fortunately the slow, stumbling pace of the undead insured no one was injured in the uncomfortable crush that ensued. But even six weeks later, gathered in Wood and Savage’s living room a few days after the festival’s Trash Till Dawn finale, the trio seems surprised by the Trash Film Orgy’s popularity. Like the nonconformist teenager shocked to find his uncombed hair and black boots are suddenly the height of mall fashion, Sacramento’s gory, campy little movie show has found itself swept into a larger cultural obsession with apocalypses, zombies and the sexy undead. Opening night broke box-office records, with a sinister 666 attendees, and interest seems to be mounting.
“I’ve got no science on it,” Wood said, when asked to account for the growing popularity of the undead in American culture. His confusion is ironic, since Trash Film Orgy is credited with inventing the zombie walk, which has since become a tradition in such diverse locals as Brisbane, Australia; Pittsburgh; and Nottingham, U.K. Sacramento’s inaugural zombie parade in 2001 was a stunt to publicize the brand-new midnight movie festival. A new zombie-walk world record has been shattered every few months since 2006.
Wood, Savage and Slockbower say they’ve got nothing to prove with numbers. They’re content to be the originators. As Slockbower, the unfailingly practical manager of stage supplies and last-minute details, explained, “If you want to break the record, you have to get armbands, and everyone has to sign papers. We thought, ‘Ehhh … let’s just have fun with it.’”
The quest for fun is the secret to Trash Film Orgy’s longevity, and key to its ability to attract the crew of 20-30 volunteers necessary to operate it. “The attitude of our volunteers is ‘Let’s make it fun.’” Slockbower said. “You can bitch or you can make stuff happen.”
There’s no question Trash Film Orgy makes stuff happen. In 10 years, they’ve screened most every film in the cult canon—from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! to Dawn of the Dead to Flash Gordon to Repo Man. They’ve hosted cult superstars like Bruce Campbell and William Lustig. They not only rule the summer late-night scene for six weeks, but also Halloween and spring break most years. They’ve made two original feature-length films, Monster From Bikini Beach, and Planet of the Vampire Women, which debuts at the Crest on December 17.
Every film screening comes with the Trash-Action Sideshow, a theater lobby full of trashy activities like a spanking booth, carnival games and truth or dare. There’s always a louder-than-god deejay and a live stage show, complete with original musical numbers and plenty of bloody effects. These shows go way beyond typical haunted-house frights, with costumed productions like Macbeth or Dead Side Story.
In 10 years, the trio estimates they’ve killed nearly 200 people onstage, spilling approximately 20 gallons of fake blood.
Though they never expected TFO to last so long, Wood, Savage and Slockbower have grown used to the seasonal nature it imposes on their lives. They book films in March, write the show scripts in May and then watch their summers disappear in a nonstop flurry of blood mixing, prop construction, rehearsals and film screenings.
Now, at the close of another successful season, they’re looking forward to a few weeks of rest before gearing up for the annual Halloween show.
There’s just one problem: What to do with the raper tree? The six-foot tall papier-mâché oak with a phallic branch had a pornographic cameo in the Evil Dead 2 stage show. (If you doubt anything papier-mâché can be called “pornographic,” you haven’t seen the Trash Film Orgy.) The tree served its turn, but now it’s just a squatter in the Crest Theatre basement.
“We might need to save him,” Wood said. Her bright eyes and frequent laughter belie her penchant for drawing the decaying monsters and busty, near-naked women found on the festival’s poster art.
Slockbower and Wood shook their heads. “He’s papier-mâché,” Wood reasoned. “He won’t survive the winter.”
“But it’s the raper tree!” Savage pressed, before consenting to the prop’s demise. “Poor raper tree,” she sighed. “Gone the way of the ejac-u-lantern.”
“And the ass cave,” Slockbower added, rounding out the tally of props TFO has destroyed for lack of storage space.
“Aw, the human ass cave. I loved him,” Savage said wistfully.
Wood laughed. “Yeah, we’re different,” he said. “I don’t know what makes us think we can do Macbeth or the ejac-u-lantern and just get away with it.”
The raper tree’s mourning was heartfelt, but short. After 10 years, all three know there will be greater creations to come.